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| 2 minutes read

Responding to Claims of Abuse Within a Youth Organization: General Principles

In my last post, I discussed the team that you need to put together to help respond to claims of abuse within a youth organization.  Now, let's discuss general principles that the team needs to follow.

Develop a Plan, and Don’t Delay

Abuse allegations are serious and need to be addressed right away. Don’t accept an arbitrary deadline that will rush the investigation but work as quickly as possible. 

Also decide as quickly as possible which interim measures you need. For example, if the accused adult still works with the organization, you must restrict his or her access to students, whether that means a suspension of employment or temporarily revoking volunteer duties. You also need to restrict his or her access to the computer system, organization records, or other sources of evidence.

Don’t Prejudge the Situation

Do not start your investigation with a bias in any direction. The slogans “Believe All Women” or “Children Don’t Lie” are intended to counter historical prejudice against victims, but they carry their own danger of bias. Start with a clean slate and view the evidence objectively. Wait until you have examined all of the evidence and interviewed all of the witnesses before you start forming conclusions. Otherwise, you may start viewing the evidence through the filter of your early conclusions and miss contrary facts.

You also need to avoid even the appearance of bias. For example, an in-house investigator should never investigate allegations against his or her supervisor. Be aware of family, business, or social ties that could create the appearance that your investigation was less than through or objective.

Treat Everyone with Respect

You must treat the accuser and the accused and every witness with respect and professionalism. Listen to their complete story. Sometimes, you may need to press them about details or apparent inconsistencies, but a good investigator can do that without skepticism. No matter what the final conclusion of an investigation, both the accuser and accused need to feel that they have been treated fairly and their story completely heard.

Investigators are Not Decision-Makers

Finally, remember that investigators only investigate and present what they have found. They should not recommend any specific personnel action, unless you are already involved in or threatened with litigation. In that case, your attorney will advise you about how best to defend the suit. In most cases, however, it will be your decision what actions to take based on the investigator’s report.

These investigations are difficult and heart-rending. We must handle them professionally and be fair to all parties. Anything less simply perpetuates and magnifies the trauma for everyone involved.


youth services law, child abuse, ausburn_deborah, insights